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Prayer is certainly not one of those topics that is easy for me to talk about or write about. Not because I do not want to pray, but because I am unable to pray as much as I should. Honestly speaking, I struggle to pray. And, when I muster all my strength to pray, I am distracted and often feel my heart is cold. A brother, who had visited and stayed with me for a couple of days, once told me, “I need to grow in the life of prayer.” Those words stuck with me ever since. Because what he shared about his prayer life is true of my prayer life, and I suspect, of most people reading this.
Though it is not easy to pray always, I continue to pray. This is because I was moved by the words of a theologian who was asked what one advice he would give to others to be embraced forever. He said, “If you’re married, love your wife and don’t ever spend a day without doing your devotions.” So, in spite of my many internal and external discouragements, I pray. I pray daily. With God’s help, I persevere. Surprisingly, when we persevere, we begin to see what a glorious and blessed thing it is to pray. In other words, we begin to enjoy God. Our relationship with God gets better as we persevere in prayer day by day!
Today, I am writing this article not because I am an expert in this area. On the contrary, I think that if I can pray, you can pray as well. If I can enjoy God, then you can enjoy Him, too. I write this as a fellow traveller in the journey of faith to see the beauty of the One who leads us as we follow in his footsteps. Here are the three things I find helpful to remember when I pray.
1. Prayer is Not a Performance
In Matthew 6, Christ tells his followers not to pray before others. He said, if they do that, they will lose their reward in heaven. He declared those who pray in the synagogues and street corners publicly to be hypocrites. A hypocrite is a person who has a hidden agenda. He is not the same inside and out. He says one thing and he means another. He thinks one thing and says another. He has a divided mind and heart. His motives are not pure.
In this context, the main reason for those who prayed publicly in synagogues was to gain public attention. When they prayed, their mind focussed on how others responded to their prayers. They did not pray from the bottom of their hearts. Instead, they wanted others to know how pious and spiritual they were. In the end, a hypocrite’s prayer is all just a public show because they did not have a real and living relationship with the living God.
In stark contrast with this, Christ says, when you pray, enter into your room and close the door and pray. The idea is that when you pray, focus on God alone. Get rid of all the distractions. When you pray, let there be nothing between you and God. Prayer is an opportunity to be honest and intimate with God. It is our privilege to honour Him, praise Him, confess our sins before Him and intercede for others. In the end, we pray not to impress Him. We have not a tiny iota of piety to draw His attention to our prayers (Isa 64:6). But we pray because we are rescued by Him and covered in the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ (1 Tim 1:15-17, Rom 3:22).
Ultimately, prayer is not a performance but a heart-to-heart communication enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit and mediated through Jesus Christ, our intercessor! In these times of lockdowns, can we lock ourselves away with the Lord in prayer? In the midst of self-isolations and quarantines, can we isolate ourselves from worldly cares, fears and anxieties and spend time alone with God?
2. Prayer Helps Us to Always Enjoy God
Writing to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul encourages them to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). Paul did not write this letter from a position of comfort. He was actually imprisoned and was bound by chains (Phil 1:7). So, the million-dollar question is, how can a man bound by chains and imprisoned ever tell others to ‘Rejoice’? This just baffles our minds.
He tells his friends to rejoice in every situation because he finds that the very foundation of joy is in the Lord. That is the key for his unending joy in the midst of suffering. Jesus Christ is the source of boundless joy. Paul says the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ is simply incomparable (Phil 3:8). Compared to Christ, everything pales into insignificance. Therefore, Paul tells the Philippians to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice…. in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:4-6).
So, the bottom line is we do not have to live compartmentalized prayer lives. We can pray to the Lord at all times, in all situations and all circumstances. Of course, by saying this I do not mean a dedicated prayer time is wrong. But to confine our devotions only to a particular time and living a disconnected life with God during the rest of the day isn’t God’s will. Pastor and author Tim Chester illustrates how we can pray in all situations in his book Enjoying God. He writes:
It’s 5 am in Dublin, Ireland, and I am standing in the rain waiting for a bus. What should I do? “I should pray”, I tell myself. But I don’t feel like praying. Praying would be easy if I were cosy and quiet in my study. But I am standing in the rain. I’d rather the bus came. ... In fact, if it were down to me, I’d still be in bed. But clearly this is God’s choice and he must have some purpose in it. So I make my own choice to enjoy the rain. I actively tune into its notes and rhythms: the noise it makes as it hits the road blending with the larger drops falling from the roofs...1
He proceeds to thank God for the bird’s beautiful song and prays for safety in his travels, confesses his sin and meditates on God’s Word. All this happens as he waits for a bus on a rainy day at 5 am in the morning. What was supposed to be a boring morning turned out to be a morning of praise and worship! That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “rejoice in the Lord always”. Prayer is the gateway to enjoy the richness of God’s immeasurable joy!
3. Pray with Your Church Family
One of the banes of modern Christianity, in my opinion, is that Christians rarely meet with each other apart from Sunday church services. The church prayer meetings are not well attended. Now, with the changes due to COVID, some Christians have disengaged themselves completely even from online church meetings.
But the early church in Jerusalem was rarely separated. “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42)”. There are two things that grab my attention. One is their steadfast devotion to one another and the other is their steadfast devotion to the sacraments and to prayer. All this happens in the context of deep fellowship. Not surprisingly, as a result of that, the Lord added many to their fellowship. A Christian who doesn’t pray for his brother doesn’t truly love him. True love and concern for other brothers and sisters results in a heartfelt intercession for them (Phil 1:3). It is through prayer that the Holy Spirit knits the hearts of brothers and sisters in fellowship and brings them closer to each other (John 14:25-26, Rom 8:14-16).
So, as we think about our prayer lives, let us think about praying behind closed doors, let us think about enjoying God, and let us think about praying with our church family. Let us not perform, but let us all enjoy God together as a family.
May the Lord help us to draw closer to him always. May the Lord teach us to pray. May the Lord change and transform our hearts, so that we may always desire to walk with Him in prayer.
1 Tim Chester, Enjoying God, The Good Book Company, 2020.